Do You Have a Dog Training Support Group?

Shiva’s last agility class took place on July 6, 2013. Five months ago. The dog sport was a part of our lives for so long, three and a half years, I was wistful about giving it up. Our coach and trainer had become a good friend; we certainly wouldn’t be the team we are today without her guidance. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. Not to mention, all of the compassionate friends we met along our journey. They were people and dogs who had experienced similar troubles and anxieties. A more supportive lot I have never met outside of blogland. I will forever be grateful for each and every one of them for the cheers, the commiserations, and the camaraderie. They were special people and I doubt I will see the likes of them again.

Alas, things changed, our lives changed, and we had to say goodbye to all of it. That final day of class was difficult, to say the least. As I watched our trainer and friend say her farewells to Shiva, it was all I could do to rein in my emotions. I was determined not to cry in public. I don’t think I did a very good job. We owe them so much and it is hard to comprehend that we may not ever see them or their adorably skilled dogs ever again. Of course, they are all just a Facebook message away but it’s not the same is it? Another dog and handler have taken our place in the class, competitions have come and gone, titles have been won and lost, and we were not there to witness any of it. Videos after the fact do not compare to shouts of encouragement on the sidelines.

Sigh.

Agility has not been an easy practice for Shiva and I. We’ve had many more failures than we’ve had successes. Countless times I have vowed to give it up, that the stress is not worth the lackluster results. And yet, I miss it. Maybe not the frustration or the tears but the moments when we really connected. They were few, admittedly, but the rush was enough to keep me going.

Honestly, I don’t know that I will ever trial with Shiva again. It’s not something that was ever fun for us. What I miss, though, are the classes, the little bursts of connection and fun once a week in an environment where it didn’t really matter if we performed the sequence perfectly or not. Especially during this last year when I officially gave up the sport. It took all of the pressure off. Ironically, when I stopped caring how well Shiva performed, she did better than ever.

Isn’t that always the way?

Our last class was amazing. I don’t remember the obstacles or sequences – that is all a blur now. What I remember is how we were both on our game. Laughing and playing, Shiva and I were a true partnership. We enjoyed that final hour as much as we possibly could. She made me so proud. It was a fitting end to her agility career.

And yet… Perhaps it doesn’t have to be the end. Maybe we can find another class here. It won’t be the same – it couldn’t. Magic like that isn’t created, it just appears. I don’t even know how to look. We kind of just fell into our last class on a referral from our trainer. Is it possible we could be that lucky again?

This is where I ask for your advice. If you currently take training classes, either in agility, or nosework, or any other dog related skill, how did you find your coach? Did you receive recommendations from friends? Did you randomly Google and select the first place that sounded decent? Do you feel a connection with your fellow classmates? If so, how did you find your training group?

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15 Comments on Do You Have a Dog Training Support Group?

  1. jet
    December 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm (4 months ago)

    I think word of mouth is probably best. I think I would join classes that were recommended by others. I’ll admit that initially we chose our trainer on the strength of the venue at which classes were held – it is held at a private dog daycare facility on weekends – which meant there was no issue with the greyhound muzzle laws. It’s pretty hard to deliver treats via a muzzle.
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    • Kristine
      December 4, 2013 at 12:20 am (4 months ago)

      I wasn’t aware there were greyhound muzzle laws in your community. That is definitely frustrating! But it’s great there are places you can still bring Barbie and have a good time without having to worry about such grand irritations.

      Word of mouth is usually what I go by as well but it’s difficult when we still know so few people here – I am not exactly a social butterfly! Due to my shyness I am sure it’ll be a while before I am brave enough to actually contact a new trainer. Baby steps, right?

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  2. Taryn
    December 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm (4 months ago)

    I’ve been doing agility for almost 10 years. I can’t imagine my life without it. I learned about it by accident when Wilson was a young pup in need of his obedience classes. I found a class close to home (very important in my traffic-hell area) with a dog training club. It was held in a large horse barn. One end held the obedience class, the other an agility class. Watching what the folks at the agility end were doing, I realized that looked like way more fun than obedience! However, while the folks from the club were nice and friendly, I really disliked the building. The floor was a thick sand/dirt mixture and Wilson (short-legged corgi) came home each week needing a bath. So I asked around about other training locations and hit the jackpot with a nice indoor facility just 20 minutes from my house. It turned out to be the “premier” spot in Northern Virginia to train for agility. People were willing to drive up to a couple hours for lessons there, and it was practically in my back yard. The place offered a wide variety of agility classes with several different instructors. It took me a few years to to settle into just the right class/instructor combo, but once I did, I’ve stayed in the same Tuesday at 6:30 slot for at least the last three years. It’s almost always the same group of friends taking the class, with an instructor that is both world-class and fun.

    I would recommend finding an agility trial near you and go ask the folks where they train, what instructors they recommend, etc.
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    • Kristine
      December 4, 2013 at 2:48 am (4 months ago)

      It is fantastic you have such a great resource so close by! I do believe there are a few big name trainers in this area but I would be much too daunted to think of contacting them. At this point, I am not interested in competition as much as practice and fun. I would like to compete again one day but I don’t think it will be with Shiva. Not in agility anyway. She just isn’t a kind of dog who can obey the rules of the game. :-P

      Thanks for the idea, though. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. I am pretty sure all of the trials are finished until the spring but it is something to consider next year. It may take me that long to work up the guts!

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  3. Leslie
    December 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm (4 months ago)

    I’m so happy to hear you consider getting back iton the ring. I guess we’re lucky in that, as fast as Bella can be, we have never been under any delusion of competing with her so I’ve never faced the kind of pressure you put on yourself and Shiva. I can tell you though that doing it just for fun, it’s still the “funnest” thing in the world.

    As for finding a trainer/facility, I think you need to go in with the expectation that you might not find ‘forever’ in the first one you try. Get recommendations, Google, talk to the folks who work at pet stores near you – do it all. And then pick one and give it a try. If it doesn’t feel right or doesn’t work for you, try the next one on your list.

    The place we’re at now I swore I would never go back to because the first trainer we had there was so bad. But we needed to do something and we tried a different class with a different instructor and have been there now for over two years. We love Carolyn – heck, even Bella loves Carolyn!

    That said, by virtue of the class itself (for “reactive” dogs), we don’t often get to experience the camaraderie you talk about here. Yes, there is comfort in seeing Josh and Willie week after week knowing they’re trying as hard as we are to deal with difficult situations but we don’t really hang out or talk (our dogs still can’t get close to each other without going ballistic.) But that’s why I have you all here in the blogosphere – we can talk, Bella can be here beside me and I don’t have to worry about her making a scene. ;)
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    • Kristine
      December 4, 2013 at 3:40 am (4 months ago)

      It is the funnest thing in the world! I couldn’t agree more. Pretty much the instant I lowered my expectations, I realized that it doesn’t matter if we ever achieve anything worthy of a few initials after her name. It’s all about making memories and working as a team. That’s why we started and that’s why I want to continue.

      As you know, agility was a big part of Shiva’s rehabilitation into a quasi-normal dog. Now that we have been without any regular practice for almost five months, I have noticed things are starting to slip a little. Even if I don’t start anything formal for a while I clearly need to get back in the game at home!

      Gosh, I could write a book about all of the times Shiva lost her shit during agility classes. That’s why my group was so amazing. Not only did they not freak out but they understood. Not all of the dogs in the class were reactive but almost all of them were dealing with issues of their own. We formed a pretty tight knit little support group after a while. But, as they say, nothing lasts forever…

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  4. Aleks
    December 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm (4 months ago)

    I recently had asked a good friend who was recently active in the agility community in Edmonton for some recommendations for another friend and she suggested to look into Shape Up Dogs (her favourite) and maybe See Spot Run. Good luck! A great group of doggie friends is priceless!

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    • Kristine
      December 4, 2013 at 3:42 am (4 months ago)

      Oh wow, thank you so much for the recommendations! I will definitely check them out. Are you also in Alberta?

      Priceless indeed. :-) I am so out of the animal world now when it used to be my entire life. I feel a bit adrift. It would be nice to get back into something again.

      Reply
      • Aleks
        December 4, 2013 at 5:08 am (4 months ago)

        I used to live up there, but moved to Arizona a few years back. I didn’t get into agility until I got down here, much for the same reasons you did, I hoped (and was right) that it would build a great relationship with my dog as well as give her an outlet for her endless energy. The group of friends was an unexpected bonus that I am forever grateful to have!
        Hopefully you and Shiva will find a group just as great as you had out East! The river valley is great, but can’t replace the mental workout the dogs get from agility :)
        Aleks

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  5. Pamela | Something Wagging This Way Comes
    December 4, 2013 at 3:33 am (4 months ago)

    Sorry I have no brilliant words of wisdom for you. But I understand your yearning for the camaraderie of a group of like-minded dog people.

    I know of an amazing agility group that is 30 minutes outside my town. Everyone raves about it.

    But without a car, it’s impossible to get there.

    I never regret giving up my car except where Honey is involved. :(
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    • Kristine
      December 4, 2013 at 3:44 am (4 months ago)

      I know exactly what you mean. I don’t drive due to massive psychological fears and for the most part it never bothers me a bit. The only time I ever ever wished for a vehicle and driving skills was when I struggled to attend dog related events and classes. My husband is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but asking him to give up his weekend every weekend to cart me and the dog around was too selfish a notion even for me.

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  6. Maggie
    December 4, 2013 at 8:34 am (4 months ago)

    This post made me super sad, which I know isn’t what you wanted! We had a great training support group in our old home. Fives months here, and I’ve realized that we’d have to drive nearly two hours to attend a training class, agility or otherwise. It’s such a bummer, and I really miss the camaraderie and support that came with great classes. If there are training places nearby, maybe call around and ask to observe a few classes, see what would be a good fit for you and Shiva!
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  7. 2 brown dawgs
    December 5, 2013 at 12:24 am (4 months ago)

    We found our training group by joining a club that focused on the dog related activity that we enjoyed (hunt tests). We found our trainer by going to hunt tests and watching different trainers and how their dogs worked for them. When we found one we liked we contacted him. It probably took us two years, but we wanted the right combo. Good luck. I hope you get back into it.
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  8. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom
    December 6, 2013 at 11:00 am (4 months ago)

    I’ve thought of getting into agility with Ducky, but she’s so uncomfortable around strangers at times that I’m not sure it’s a good idea. I bought a beginner’s agility kit to use in the back yard, but so far haven’t had time to even read the book that came with it.
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